"Democracies are showing their resilience" - Minister

COVID-19 – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Mme Alba Ventura on RTL (excerpts)

Paris, 31 March 2020

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Q. – We’ve also got some three million expatriates worldwide. Now, depending on whether you’re in Sweden or Tunisia, the rules about containment aren’t the same. What do you say to our expats?

THE MINISTER – There are more than three million of our expats around the world – probably 3.5 million. There are two million registered, not to mention those who are not, and we’re saying to them: “stay at home, you have a home”, even if it’s a “home” abroad. Stay at home, apply the health rules we’re proposing in France, self-isolate, avoid contact as far as possible. The rules abroad are the same rules as for France.

Q. – Even for those who live in Sweden, for example, where self-isolation isn’t on the agenda?

THE MINISTER – I’ve noticed that standard rules are beginning to be applied across Europe. As you know, those who at one point were considered reluctant to adopt containment rules – I’m thinking of the United Kingdom – are now applying them even more rigorously than others. And so the same cooperation and health standards are spreading everywhere. But I want to speak above all to those French expatriates who may be in more at-risk, more vulnerable countries. I think these rules must absolutely be complied with in those countries, and if there are health emergencies, if there are special cases, if there are specific weaknesses and vulnerabilities, people should inform the diplomatic posts and embassies so they can consider individual cases and possibly medical evacuations if possible. We’ve just done one recently in Kenya, where one of our compatriots was very severely afflicted. We managed, through various means, to transfer him to a hospital in Réunion, where he’s being treated. Cases like that may recur, obviously.

Q. – And what if they really want to come back?

THE MINISTER – We don’t think it’s in their interest to come back and it’s probably better if they self-isolate at home, where they are, in their own house, in their own flat, rather than coming to France; that’s what we’re advising them to do. (…)

There’s been good coordination between [EU] health ministers to apply the same containment rules, the same crisis-management principles. And there’s also been the decision-making period. First of all, fairly traditional decisions: I’m thinking of bulk purchases of protective equipment, I’m thinking of the creation of a strategic reserve of medical equipment, I’m thinking of financial investment in research, research into vaccines. I’m also thinking of the release of nearly $40 billion to help regions and businesses under the European Union budget. And above all, there’s been the ending of taboos! Because what people don’t really appreciate is that today the dogmas we’d been living by very strictly for several years, for decades – I’m thinking in particular of government deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product under the Stability and Growth Pact –, now the focus is on flexibility and pragmatism, and that was unthinkable… (…)

We’re managing to establish this method of combating the virus through democracy, because democracy’s strength is the strength of transparency, freedom of expression, and sharing. It’s the strength of information, and I also think one of the positive elements in this crisis – you have to identify a few – is that democracies are showing their resilience and that they’re capable of both protecting [people] and complying with the law. (…)./.

Published on 07/04/2020

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